by: Stephen King
Reading has not always been a passion of mine. In fact, I used to pride myself on the circumstance that I went my entire high school career and didn’t check a single book out from the school library. Now that I reflect on that ‘accomplishment,’ I’m not sure if it is a negative on me as a learner or the school as the educational provider? Either way, I understand and accept that I missed out on a wonderful hobby during my teenage years and am thankful that during my undergraduate studies in college, I found my love for enjoying great literature.
With that being said, several of you will question if Stephen King is an authentic author of great literature, and rightly so. No matter your opinion, it is difficult to argue that King has not had a resounding influence on the fiction horror genre of writing. In fact, King is probably one of, if not the, best known author in the category.
So, what prompted me to pick up this novel? In all honesty, the cover caught my eye while schmoozing my local Half Price Books retail store. I have read several King novels throughout my reading profession with the outcome being hit and miss. Some of his work is amazingly written and has left a lasting effect on me as a person, others, not so much. After, reading the leaf on the inside of the cover, I was completely hooked as to what the story was claiming to offer. Further, being on sale (and having a coupon) prompted me to go ahead and purchase the book at well below retail.
Here are the specific details on the novel:
Info & Overview
Title: The Outsider
Author: Stephen King
Publication Year: 2018
Number of Pages: 560
Price: $30.00 USD (retail)
On to the review…
In the beginning of the story we are introduced to a character by the name of Terry Maitland. Terry is a home grown, Middle America, all loving family man and upstanding citizen. Being the loving husband and father of two girls, a local high school English teacher, and outstanding little league baseball coach, Terry is easily a likeable character from the start. In fact, King does a very nice job setting the stage for you to quickly relate and sympathize with this character. However, in the snap of a finger, you are thrown into an emotional roller coaster as Terry is arrested by his long-standing friend Detective Ralph Anderson for the rape and murder of a local boy who was a former baseball player on Terry’s little league team.
As the story develops we learn that several witnesses can verify Terry’s presence to be at the scene of the crime on the day and time of the murder, thus, making him the #1 suspect, and for Detective Anderson, an easy open-close case. The only problem is, Terry was also attending an out of town professional learning conference on behalf of his school at the exact same time and date the murder was said to have occurred. With his work colleagues being able to also verify his attendance at the conference, along with a video recording showing Terry asking a question to a session presenter, readers are emotionally forced into a very difficult position. On the one hand, the witnesses and evidence (including finger prints and semen samples) verify Terry’s participation in the murder. On the other hand, there is live footage of him attending the work conference in another city. A city that is much too far away for him to have committed the murder and commuted back to the conference. How can someone be in two places at once? Essentially, this is the driving question that fuels the reminder of the novel.
In true King fashion, the novel, at times, is extremely graphic. Specifically, when detailing the rape and murders that occur (yes there is more than one), King does not hold back. I will humbly admit that while reading the book, there were several nights I had more trouble falling asleep than normal. Yes, this is a story that will easily creep into the depths of your mind and linger until you find yourself alone and vulnerable. In this regard, the book gets an A+ from me. One of the characteristics I feel great books entail, is the ability to create a lasting impression on the reader long after the book has been put away. The Outsider will certainly stay with you well beyond the last page.
With that being said, there were also some disappointments that the book presented. If you are an avid reader of Stephen King, you will be familiar with the Finders Keepers trilogy that details the unique cases of private detective Bill Hodges and his assistant Holly Gibney. Not to spoil too much, however, The Outsider takes place after Bill’s death, when Holly has taken on another partner in the Finders Keepers firm. Yes, Holly Gibney is introduced as a main character about a third into this story. Although I enjoy the character Holly Gibney, I feel King has begun to turn her into somewhat of a ‘superhero’ in his portfolio of fictional characters. Having been exposed to Holly in other books/stories, her character is always one step ahead, knows or obtains information from extremely awkward resources, and always seems to escape immediate danger. As the audience, this character, and her ability to be successful under any and all circumstances, has become predictable, overused, and honestly, boring.
Further, I was also disappointed in the ‘good character’ deaths and the timing of those deaths. Warning! Possible insight/spoiler: it seems as though King was getting to the end of the main story and realized he hadn’t killed off enough character’s with good moral compass/intentions. All of a sudden, near the close of the book, we lose two secondary good guy characters in a scenario where the ‘main’ characters all survive a sniper rifle attack. For King to have the audacity to be as graphic as he is with the rape and murder scenes, I wish he would have a bigger pair when it came to cutting ties with some of the story’s forefront cast. Especially with George R.R. Martin setting a more current unexpected death tone in his Game of Thrones book series that easily removes reader’s favorite characters on a whim, I feel King lost his cojones in this one when it came time to shorten the ‘A’ list of characters. End spoiler alert.
Lastly, I felt the backstory the surviving characters had to develop at the finale of the story was extremely thin. With today’s technology in the crime investigation world, there is no way the fabrication created to cover the remaining group would have stood. In fact, when reflecting back to the cover story the survivors create, it’s almost goofy. Maybe it was deadlines, maybe it was writer’s block, either way, more thought should have been given to the resolve of the story.
All in all, the book is an easy read and for the most part creepily enjoyable (in true King fashion). By no means is this his best work, however, it can certainly stand on its own. I’m not sure I would spend the dough to purchase a new copy but would certainly encourage anyone interested in reading the story to wait and find it second hand or pick it up at your local library once available.
Overall book rating:
3 out of 5 books
Now to the small part most of the folks reading this are waiting for. While reading this book, I dedicated one pipe and one tobacco to the entire story (as I do with most books). I find that the tobacco remanence and smoking characteristics help insert me in a place that is dedicated to the target story I am reading. My mind becomes familiar with the room note and tobacco taste, thus, reinserting me into the story’s context once I pick the book back up and begin reading. For Stephen King’s The Outsider, I chose my 1970s GBD Prodigy Sandflame Ring Blast Freehand paired with MacBaren HH Vintage Syrian. The smoky, sweet, rustic characteristics of the tobacco, paired with the easiest of draws and large bowl on the vintage GBD, made for the utmost enjoyment. Yes, some of you may be classifying me to be just as crazy as King himself, however, every time I smoke this combination of pipe and tobacco, I am transported back to the story of Terry Maitland and the mysterious ‘thing’ that seems to be haunting mid-west America. Don’t believe that it works? Give it a try yourself. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.
Until next time, thanks for reading. Cheers!